Truly Indian

RANDHAWA HITS OFF A BUNKER DURING THE INDIAN OPEN AT THE DELHI GOLF CLUB.-S. SUBRAMANIUM.

Despite a tough field and the presence of three European Tour winners, the tournament was dominated by the Indian golfers, writes Rakesh Rao.

It was just the kind of finish the Hero Honda Indian Open deserved. Having kept the overseas challengers at bay, Jyoti Randhawa, Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia and Vijay Kumar set up the climax before a crowd of over 10,000 at the Delhi Golf Club. And the question that was uppermost in the minds of the spectators that Sunday (October 22) was whether the fading light would allow the crowning of the champion.

After the players reached the playoff hole, the par-5 18th, Vijay Kumar swung his drive into the dreaded jungle on the right and there ended his campaign.

The last Indian to win the Open in 2002, Vijay had led on the first day, and again midway through the final round by two strokes. So he had reasons to be peeved after shooting himself in the foot. This left Randhawa and Chowrasia in the hunt. However, the time lost while Vijay was searching for the ball meant that if the contest stretched to the second playoff hole the players would have to return the following morning (October 23).

As it turned out, Randhawa, just four feet from putting and winning outright, messed up his shot and allowed Chowrasia back into the game as it went to the second playoff hole.

Randhawa and Chowrasia returned to the 18th tee with only a few hundred diehard fans making it to the 9 a.m. start. The issue was decided in just 18 minutes as Randhawa birdied the hole and regained the title he last won in 2000. "This victory was the most difficult as there was a lot of pressure on me. In my previous victories, such as when I won here in 2000, there was no expectation on me. I was an up and coming golfer then. Now there is much more pressure on me. I feel very proud and honoured to have won the Open again," said Randhawa after making the winning birdie from two feet.

Talking of the missed birdie the previous day, Randhawa said: "It was nerve-wracking. I stood over that putt thinking this is the one with which to win the Open and that was enough to make me miss it. I thought of winning the tournament, but did not think about the putt."

The victory was worth $63,400 for Randhawa, while Chowrasia and Vijay Kumar collected $33,900 each for sharing the second spot. Interestingly, Chowrasia too came close to winning the title but missed a birdie from about 12 feet that forced another playoff hole. Still, the happy-go-lucky Kolkata golfer seemed pleased with the way he played which helped him earn the biggest cheque of his career.

"I was relaxed out there. I am happy with the way I played. I know that my chance will come. I did not get tense and I slept well. In fact my roommate, Rafiq Ali was saying that he could not sleep, but I slept nicely," said Chowrasia.

The performance also helped Chowrasia make amends for his unfortunate disqualification from the Mercuries Taiwan Masters in September. On that occasion, Chowrasia was leading by three shots after two days but forgot to sign his card.

This year the Indian Open field was particularly tough with three European Tour winners, England's Simon Dyson, Scotland's Andrew Coltart and Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell joining the fray. Dyson, winner of two European Tour titles this season, stayed in contention until the playoff but the other two were dogged by poor form. But no one was complaining since it was an Open where the Indians dominated.